With the constant negative news that blares from my clock radio early each morning, it hardly seems worthwhile, most days, to get out of bed! The hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper, and solutions to our problems seem to be fading away equally as fast. There don’t appear to be any real positives–according to all of the “experts”–for progress in our state or national economies. The battleground that Wisconsin has become is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the current scramble to right the ship. Next, it will be Ohio and soon Illinois.
Unions are the current “targets.” Many blame our economic woes on the public sector unions. In other words, anyone who worked and earned pensions as teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, and other government workers is at the root of our economic decline. I can’t speak for the others, but as a former teacher I feel this is simply one more example of how we have been judged and looked upon forever in a light of disrespect and made to feel as second-class people much of the time.
When I was in college eons ago, preparing to become a teacher, I was surrounded by so many who were going into business and marketing. They couldn’t understand why I was choosing to lead a life of “poverty” as a teacher! After all, they were going to set the world on fire working for IBM or other corporate giants, or they were going to take over the family business that was nothing short of a lucrative gold mine. They were going to rise meteorically into triple- digit incomes with the world as their oyster! While all of those “methods” classes and lesson planning sessions wore on for me, they were in the ivy-covered edifices learning all of the secrets of managing things in the business world.
And things never really changed down through the years that I was a teacher (thirty-five to be accurate). The same kinds of condescension often came our way as we taught the children of some very wealthy and “important” people–the same types who hurried off to those ivy-covered buildings. Teachers were always “necessary evils” often looked upon as nothing more than day care babysitters. It has always been pretty standard thinking that teachers should have to beg every time it was time for a new contract. “Why should teachers be upset?” People ask. “They don’t have to work during the summers!” And for some reason that line of thinking always managed to work its way into the core of negotiations. Sadly, that remains in the forefront of attitudes shared by multitudes.
School boards, who have always been comprised of individuals with their own axes to grind or scores to settle, drew the line in the sand and dared teachers to step across. Very few times, I recall, there was any real joy on either side when negotiations got going full tilt. The nature of negotiations has always been that both sides have to give up a little–to compromise–and that is as it should be. There have been arguments on both sides of the issue that teachers have always been underpaid. Many believe that it is nothing more than a myth–an urban legend. I suppose it depends upon how one looks at and breaks down the total income of a teacher. To truly answer that, we must ask the following question: What is the value we place on teachers, cops, firefighters, and nurses?
Taxpayers have every right to expect that they get their money’s worth from their schools, and it goes without saying that teachers have an unquestionable obligation to do their best to earn their pay. It also goes without saying that states must honor their obligations to fund pensions guaranteed under the state constitution. And because the state has failed to live up to its obligations, the current situation exists.
Through the years I never failed to pay my portion to the Teacher Retirement System out of every paycheck, nor did I fail to pay my portion for health insurance. (I’m still paying the full amount now out of my pension) For thirty-five years I paid in and was happy to do so, knowing that down the line retirement would be OK. I didn’t expect the state to shirk its obligations! Now, the blame game is in full swing and the teachers’ unions are being singled out by disgruntled, envious, and angry non-teachers. There seems to be an “If-I-can’t-have-it, why-should-you” line of thinking out there. I’m not sure how this will all shake out, but I do know that it’s not the fault of teachers for this hole we’re in.